Having difficulty swallowing after cancer treatment?

cancer treatmentNormal speech and swallow function is a delicate balance of strength and agility in the lips, tongue and throat muscles. Any weakness, loss of flexibility or change in anatomy can cause speech and/or swallowing disruption and discomfort. While changes to your voice/speech may cause frustration, worsening of your swallowing safety can affect your nutrition and respiratory health.

While many cancer treatments make eating less desirable due to fatigue, decreased appetite and changes in taste, treatment focused on head and neck cancer affects the mouth and throat specifically. Reduced saliva causes dry mouth feeling and can lead to mouth pain, soreness and burning sensation. Mouth and throat muscles lose flexibility and feel tight or stiff, making normal lip, tongue and throat movements more difficult. Your oncologist may have already recommended dietary supplements or alternative types of feeding to help you maintain good nutrition for strength and healing.

Basic neck and mouth flexibility stretches:

  • Slowly turn your head side to side, looking over each shoulder.
  • Slowly nod your head up and down.
  • Open your mouth as wide as you can.
  • Round your lips together (like whistling) and then stretch widely apart towards your ears.
  • Stretch tongue out of your mouth as far as it will go and then curl it up, down, left and right.
  • Say “ahhh” gliding your pitch from your lowest possible pitch to your highest possible pitch.

If you notice any change or worsening of your speaking or swallowing abilities, please contact your oncologist about your concerns. Comprehensive swallowing evaluations and individualized outpatient speech/swallow therapy services are available at Agnesian HealthCare hospitals in Fond du Lac, Ripon and Waupun.

About Kerry Winget

Kerry Winget, AuD, CCC-SLP/A is a licensed speech language pathologist at St. Agnes Hospital. She has been working with adults in the medical setting for over 15 years. She has special interest in swallowing disorders and treatment. She recently earned her 9th Award for Continuing Education (ACE) from the American Speech and Hearing Association.

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